He then lived through a thrilling first-hand introduction to Braggin' Rights last year. Both teams were ranked in the Top 12 and the Tigers held on for an 82-73 victory in a game that was closer and more heated than the final score indicated.
Groce said he was locked in during that contest and didn't realize the intensity involved until viewing the tape later (he's since watched it multiple times).
"I think there was more emotion to the game than what I thought," he said.
That was Groce's first loss as the Illini head coach and Illinois' fourth straight defeat to it's bitter out-of-conference rival. With the stakes as high as always, Groce said lessons learned in the last go-round will help Saturday, especially pertaining to the magnitude and emotion involved.
"I thought we got caught up in that, which can be a good thing if you balance it appropriately," he said. "But there were some times where we kind of took some wild shots and did some things because we got caught up in the emotion of the game. You've gotta trust your system, be poised, don't let anything or anyone steal your mind. I say that to the players all the time."
Illinois (9-2) enters the matchup unranked for the first time in four years. The Tigers are No. 23 in the country and undefeated (10-0). The rivalry has been marked by runs. The Illini won nine straight before the Tigers recent run. From 1983-90 the Illini won eight consecutive only to see Missouri reel off nine in a row in the 90s.
With a rivalry that swings one way or the other, a different kind of contempt is bred. Players like Joe Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu, the longest-tenured members of the roster, have never beaten the Tigers. Groce acknowledged the contest is a frequent talking point for his players in the offseason. He added that he understands emotion is very much a part of what makes this game different.
"You love that competitiveness that's a part of the game, you love that edge to it, you love that emotion, and we have to channel that in a positive way," Groce said.